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I’d be lying if I said the night was restful. Hunting and I traded watch shifts, with [Sunrise] being a lifesaver. Getting a few levels out of it to boot didn’t hurt.

Still, sleeping was a terrifying experience. As little ground as was above us, I could still imagine it coming collapsing down onto me, hundreds of pounds of rock and dirt burying me alive. Didn’t make for restful sleep, and as little as it’d help if the worst happened, I slept wrapped up in [Mantle of the Stars], with [Persistent Casting] letting me maintain it. Sure, I’d still get buried alive, but I’d get a few more seconds to curse Hunting to eternal damnation before I died.

Fortunately, Hunting knew his stuff, and I survived the surprisingly chilly night. I suppose it was almost winter, and we’d been heading steadily south-west. I probably took a bit longer on watch than was strictly fair, but while on watch I didn’t need to be in the jaws of the deathtrap. I was woken up by Hunting as the first light of day broke over the horizon, and with only a bit of fumbling did we get the entire campsite broken down and packed up.

“Right.” I said, mentally cursing to myself at Hunting’s bizarre knot arrangement. “New plan. I set up my stuff, you set up your stuff, and we both take down our stuff, and our stuff only.” I proposed.

I got a stink-eye from Hunting, which I didn’t feel was warranted.

“I mean, I did set everything up last night.” He fairly pointed out.

“Yes! I’ll cook, you dig a hole in the ground, it’s fair?” I tried to reason, knowing it wasn’t that fair.

I got some grumbling noises from Hunting.

“Look. We each like our stuff done a particular way. Yeah, you’re doing most of the work, both during the day and to dig stuff out. But, like, it just makes sense for us to arrange our own stuff. Look, I’ll handle the rest of the communal activities?” I offered. “[Sunrise] pick me up?” I said, sweetening the deal.

I got a grumpy noise of assent, smacked him with [Sunrise], and got a level up notification.

[*Ding!* [Sunrise] leveled up! 7 -> 8]

If my old [Medicine] skill and general human knowledge hadn’t contradicted it, I would’ve believed that the System released happy chemicals to everything that leveled up. As-is, I knew the happy feeling was pure me. The joy of a low-level skill – I got to watch it rise rapidly.

Hunting and I started the day off jogging in a direction that he’d divined. Sun wasn’t high enough yet for me to start flying, and being towed along like a kite had some downsides. Namely, it was hard to talk when I was going that fast.

“How would you manage if you were solo?” Hunting asked me as we started to move along.

“I wouldn’t.” I bluntly replied. “My skillset is primarily handling other people, which generally implies civilization. Worst-case, there’d be trees or bamboo and such to base a campsite off of, which I could then use to build a light structure or something. Middle of nowhere? I’m useless, and I know it.”

I decided to change the topic, before Hunting started to dig deep into my skillset, and realize I was entirely unsuited to be here. Dude was smart, and the gears would start turning, and he’d be right back on thinking about Katastrofi.

Then again, when a part of your life as significant as that is torn away, it’s hard to think about other topics. Rather, it’s easy for any topic to lead back to the subject.

Watching how Hunting was coping, the grief still marked around his eyes in spite of his attempts to be stony-faced about it, was having me think twice about a companion. Especially if I was going to pull a Night, and live thousands of years.

When I bonded to a creature, I’d probably extend their lifespan. In a perfect world, I’d bind to something that increased my natural lifespan. That would give me more time to hit whatever obscenely high level I needed to get [The Stars Never Fade]. I hoped I’d unlock it at level 400. Most people, heck, most Sentinels didn’t make it that far in their lifetime, but I was already over level 300 before I was 20. An obscene leveling pace, no matter how it was sliced, and participating with the Formorian assault just now should give me a solid leg-up. Even if I only got one level a year, I was on track to hit level 400 before I died of old age.

Granted, in the line of work I was in, “death by old age” was a literal joke we told each other.

However, even if I could extend and expand a companion’s lifespan with the mere act of bonding with one, there was no guarantee that they’d last long enough. Say I found the best kitten ever. I could expect a cat to have a 20-year lifespan, baseline. Their skills could extend it out to 30, 35 years, and I might be able to even double that to 60, 70 years. Might not be level 400 by then though.

The joke, of course, being a cat becoming a companion to anyone. Cats didn’t have owners, they had staff.

Which, if I was doing this the slow and careful way, would mean waiting until I got the immortality skill first, before finding a companion. Opportunity was knocking right now though, and I’d be foolish not to answer its call. Heck, answering opportunity when opportunity came knocking, was how I got here in the first place. That, and making my own chances and luck.

Figured I should make some more conversation while I was down here though, and leave the deep philosophical thinking to when I was flying.

HA!

Who was I kidding, I’d be too giddy with delight to be thinking about stuff.

“How’s it going?” I asked Hunting, shaking myself out of the thinking pit I’d found myself in.

I got a look that basically asked if I was a moron, and I shut up. Hunting was usually nicer than this, but grief did strange things to everyone. In Hunting’s case, it just seemed to make him an asshole, when he was usually nice. Which, quite honestly, was a totally understandable reaction. I didn’t like being on the receiving end of it, but if it helped, well, I could tolerate it for a few days more. Or however long my patience lasted for.

“Do you still have your healing touchstone skill?” Hunting asked me after an awkward pause.

I shook my head.

“It’s a combination of skills that requires some prep work.” I told him. “Haven’t gotten the chance to re-do it yet.”

“Might be worth doing while we’re moving today.” Hunting ‘observed’, seemingly giving me an order.

I wrinkled my nose at that.

“I’ll give it a shot. It won’t be nearly as good as it was before. Less time, distracted, and last time I did this I had a third skill that helped with this, that I no longer have. [Medicine]. Better than nothing though.” I worked out, thinking out loud as I went.

Well, I wasn’t doing much else when flying. Might as well do something semi-useful. I wouldn’t be nearly as efficient – I needed to find a solid multi-day period to recreate my image – but it’d be better than nothing.

“Nothing”, of course, being the absolute time of my life as I was able to fly-surf freely through the air. I should totally get Julius to do this with me when I got back to the capital. Who was going to stop us?

For that matter, it was going to take me a lot longer this time to properly recreate the image, without the crutch of [Medicine]. I could replicate everything without the skill, I was just eating inefficiencies everywhere. I’m sure I’d be eternally grateful for it once [Solar Infusion] started to get some good use.

The sun rose a little higher, basking us in the morning light. I promptly tied a rope around my waist, handed one end off to Hunting without a word passed between us, and took off!

Flying! Flying never got old. I was starting to think about what I wanted from [Ranger-Mage] evolving, and [Talaria] upgrading and losing the light restriction was high on my list.

For that matter, I hadn’t done a lot of thinking on what I wanted my next evolution of [Ranger-Mage] to look like. It had been, what, level 210 a month ago? When I didn’t spend that much time blowing stuff up if I could help it? Yeah, I thought I had a few more years before I was ready to class it up, and that I’d had the time to think about what I wanted and needed, and for my experience to shape my wants and needs from the class.

While I’d rocketed up to 256 in [Ranger-Mage], I didn’t feel like I had the deep, rich well of experience that I had with [Constellation of the Healer]. Heck, I’d had [Constellation] for literally twice as long as I’d had [Ranger-Mage] for. It was kinda unfair, how much faster combat and fighting classes could level up, given the right conditions.

… I complained, having boosted my own healing classes multiple times in deadly situations. From plagues to tsunamis, from Formorians to volcanic eruptions, all the way to Destruction knocking over walls as a side-effect from his earthquake and crushing people, I’d zipped around all over the country healing people, and getting serious experience for it.

I kept thinking about [Ranger-Mage] and what I wanted out of it when I got the chance to class it up as the sun rose high in the sky, and started to fall again.

I couldn’t recommend trying to eat while being towed along like a kite. Almost choked on my rations, and drinking? It’d be easier to drink and run. Maybe we could’ve stopped for lunch, but I was already feeling like a burden – literally, I had to be kited along – and I wasn’t going to suggest stopping.

After an early, early lunch, I decided to start working on my new image, linking [Dance with the Heavens] up with [Persistent Casting]. I didn’t have the greatest focus, basically needing to be walking on a treadmill the entire time I was trying to focus on my entire knowledge of medicine, recalled through [Pristine Memories].

It helped that I’d done it before, and I simply recalled the last time I did this. Problem was, I didn’t have as much time, so it was more like skimming a book than a thorough, in-depth read, occasionally being jolted out of my thinking as Hunting stopped for a moment, and I kept going, only for my leash to get yanked as I drifted too far.

Still, progress was progress, and my efficiency was improving. I’d want to completely re-do this when I got the chance, but something was better than nothing. Also, a lack of efficiency wasn’t bothering me too much, as I’d just increased my mana pool to a ludicrous degree. Ideally, I’d have perfect efficiency – my own pride in my abilities demanded I go for it, before I even touched practical considerations – but for now, this would have to be ‘good enough’.

We made solid time, with Hunting occasionally stopping to check on something. I wasn’t sure what, since there were clearly no eggs, and the path the Queens had taken could only be made more obvious with a giant neon sign, and even that would’ve only improved it slightly.

I was also continuously amused by Hunting pulling me along. As he pulled me along, I pushed up. As I pushed up, he was also pulled up just a bit, creating a strange bobbing effect. Basically, I was lifting some of his weight as well. Fun stuff!

We spent a few days traveling like this. Death-trap of a campsite, some chit-chat in the morning, traveling through the lands, finding a spot at night, some more lighthearted chit-chat, a quick pulse of [Dance] to make sure we weren’t being secretly poisoned by Arthur’s poison, and back to the death-trap.

One day, I spotted some ugly, brownish-purple hills in the distance as we continued to make good time. One hill was whole and intact, while the other three were broken and shattered into pieces.

“Hey Hunting! Pause a moment!” I yelled down to him, dropping with [Talaria]. I could drop faster, but why bother?

“What?” Hunting asked me, short, but not rude. He’d slowly, oh so slowly, been coming round and being slightly nicer and more reasonable the past few days.

Good timing as well, because I’d been getting close to blowing up at him. There was only so much rudeness and mean-spirited remarks I could take. Heck, if I hadn’t been paranoid that I wasn’t quite emotionally stable yet from losing [Center of the Galaxy], I’d have blown a gasket already. Only the fear of being painted as “emotional” kept my temper in check.

“That way.” I pointed in the direction we were already going, feeling somewhat lame about it. “Strange mounds.”

Hunting gave me a sharp nod.

“Probably the lairs and nests themselves.”

He looked up at the sun. Mid-morning.

“Right, let’s head on over.” Hunting declared.

On one hand, I wish he’d asked for my input. On the other, I was wildly out of my depth and I knew it. It was faster and more efficient to just follow the lead of the massively experienced dude with almost 200 levels on me.

Hunting had done well for himself in the leveling department, fighting all the Royal Guards and Formorian Queens. Being able to single-handedly fight a Royal Guard when we were together was great experience, and I bet he’d killed more on the fight against the Queen.

We continued jogging over – I wasn’t taking the risk in the air, not when Shooters could still be around, some last rearguard on the hive – and in roughly 30 minutes, crested over a little hill, to see the hives in all their grotesque glory.

 

[Name: Elaine]

[Race: Human]

[Age: 19]

[Mana: 153790/153790]

[Mana Regen: 133517 (+98425.6)]

Stats

[Free Stats: 51]

[Strength: 293]

[Dexterity: 347]

[Vitality: 2176]

[Speed: 2176]

[Mana: 15379]

[Mana Regeneration: 15379 (+9842.56)]

[Magic Power: 7897 (+106609.5)]

[Magic Control: 7897 (+106609.5)]

[Class 1: [The Dawn Sentinel - Celestial: Lv 305]]

[Celestial Affinity: 305]

[Cosmic Presence: 231]

[Solar Infusion: 1]

[Center of the Universe: 285]

[Dance of the Heavens: 305]

[Wheel of Sun and Moon: 271]

[Mantle of the Stars: 256]

[Sunrise: 11]

[Class 2: [Ranger-Mage - Radiance: Lv 256]]

[Radiance Affinity: 256]

[Radiance Resistance: 256]

[Radiance Conjuration: 256]

[Shine: 111]

[Sun-Kissed: 256]

[Blaze: 256]

[Talaria: 256]

[Nova: 256]

[Class 3: Locked]

General Skills

[Identify: 151]

[Pristine Memories: 200]

[Pretty: 152]

[Bullet Time: 268]

[Oath of Elaine to Lyra: 270]

[Sentinel's Superiority: 305]

[Persistent Casting: 189]

[Learning: 280]

 

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Selkie

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